Do you find yourself standing and talking… and lecturing… and repeating… and ordering… and then getting ticked off and yelling? And still, your precious angels stare at you in confusion, disobedience or even defiance? All in all, you want to get your kids to mind without lecturing. Without cajoling or without threats. While this seems like it should be easy, it’s often a challenge that requires our consistency and attention.
I think it boils down to one thing we parents need to establish in our hearts.
There’s a difference between telling someone something and training them how to do it.
One definition of lecturing is “a long serious speech, especially one given as a scolding or reprimand.” We tend to sit down after the fact and talk talk talk. This doesn’t really work. I’ll get into how we can avoid this trap later, but I think if we can build a habit of training and following through with consequences we can avoid lecturing almost altogether. There will be times when we must explain or discuss a situation, but we must think of “lecturing” as a broken tool in our toolbox. Using it doesn’t fix the problem isn’t fixed and we just end up frustrated.
Teaching + Testing = Training
There’s a reason why schools test students’ knowledge. A math teacher can stand in front of the class lecturing algebra all day, and that doesn’t mean a single student will actually know how to solve for x. Why? Because almost everyone learns by doing. At least initially. You listen to the teacher, you practice on your own, then your knowledge is tested. The teacher doesn’t introduce the quadratic formula then test you for 25% of your grade the next day. Why? Because you haven’t had adequate time to prepare. And a teacher’s goal isn’t to fail you, it’s to teach you something in a way it can be reproduced.
Budgeting is another example of something that takes lots of exposure, practice, and trial and error before one is confident. A mother doesn’t say to their child, “Here’s $20, use it wisely. Okay good” and then expect the child to be a little money managing guru by the age of 10. You teach children how to think about now vs. later. You explain what money is, what it’s used for, and the difference between value and worth. Getting upset at your 8 yr. old for spending all their money on candy is pointless. The goal is to use these opportunities to teach about consequences.
Think about college and pro athletes. They are where they are because they’ve honed their skills for years. They’ve practiced, watched videos, been taught techniques, and had their skills tested during game after game. You wouldn’t tell your son, “Here’s a bat, just sort of swing it out towards the ball and it’ll go over the fence.” Perhaps they get lucky. It’s probably best if they don’t get lucky initially, because that never lasts. Two years into their baseball career, they will still need training, tweaking, and practice to hone their skills. You wouldn’t say their coach is lecturing, you’d say it’s part of the training process.
So now that you’ve skimmed the top ideology part (which you know I have to include), let’s get into how we can get our children to respond to our instructions without lecturing. Lecturing makes us feel annoyed, our children feel condescended upon, and isn’t really very effective. If you lecture frequently you’ll probably notice your children’s eyes glaze over as they shut down. They simply don’t want to listen to another word about how they aren’t doing something right. Even if they aren’t doing something right. There’s a better way.
Now, of course there comes a time when you know your child understands what’s to be done, and yet, they don’t do it. I’ll touch on that, but I think with smaller children we should err on the side of more instruction and less discipline. Let them wiggle out of chores? No way! But avoid lecturing and losing your temper before you know what they’re about.
1. Explain instructions, concepts and principles in times of non-conflict
Start to think of yourself as a grandmaster… of motherhood. The day provides tons of opportunities to train our children on various things. Of course there are times we need to issue an instruction, and have no time to discuss the whys and hows. In these instances it’s just as well we focus on first-time obedience since some situations require it. However, there are many times during the day when the goal is simply for our children to learn how to do something and then do it. Whether it’s tidying up, setting the table, or helping cook, we usually have a few minutes to explain things as we go.
If you begin to see opportunities throughout your day to explain why you do what you do, you can call upon it during times of potential conflict. The best time to train your child to do something is when it’s not needed. Or when you’re not in a hurry. The time to practice what they’ve learned is when it’s needed.
My friend and mother of 3 has a strategy for getting her children to calm down emotionally. When they come to her to tattle, cry or are nearing breakdown she has them carry out a breathing exercise they’ve practiced time and time again. I think they are to simulate blowing bubbles into a drink. This gives enough of a distraction they are able to think and explain what’s happening calmly. She trained them to do this when they didn’t need it so she could call upon it when they did.
2. Demonstrate your instructions repeatedly
It takes a while to master a concept. People learn visually, verbally, and hands-on. For whatever skill or behavior you are training it’s important to demonstrate what you are after multiple times. This gives children a chance to become exposed to the skill, comfortable with the process, and finally confident in their ability. Do expect it will take a while for your children to pick up a skill. Don’t expect your children to easily understand a moral concept upon first hearing it.
I often gauge when my children are ready to do things on their own completely – when I’ve shown them enough times – by how soon they start saying “let me do it!” Or if it’s a concept I want them to grasp (no hitting, kicking, or lying, for example), when they start saying what was on the tip of my tongue.
Even after my children have grasped a skill, I help them perfect as they go. My 3-year-old will help me fold laundry. Not baskets and baskets, but enough that it’s a small help. She understands the concept of folding, but each time we fold I help her do it a little more precisely. When she says, “I know, I know” then I step back.
3. Get them started, at least a little
As adults we prefer to give instructions and watch them being carried out. No interference, no having to get out of our chair, no more talking. I say it, you do it. However, this is not often the case with small children, nor is it the case when we are introducing a more complex skill to older kids. When I want my kids to do something I will walk them to the area in question and point at what needs to be done. I have never found it to be affective standing in one room and shouting for a chore to be done in another.
If it’s dusting or sweeping, I will direct them to the area and provide the necessary tools to complete the job. If they start with gusto I will move on, but if they hesitate I’ll begin to demonstrate the skill again. Sure, maybe I’ve done it a few times already, but this act shows your confidence in their abilities and helps them get used to the idea of helping out.
Older children who are doing the dishes or making rolls for dinner may need help organizing the counter or reading the recipe. If you give your instructions and help them get started, this helps curb procrastination and excuse-making.
4. Say what you mean and mean what you say
One of the most underrated tools of parenting (in my humble opinion) is simply this: keep your word. This won’t be possible 100% of the time, naturally, but if we are people who mean what we say and do what we promise children are far more likely to obey our requests and heed our warnings. Why? Because, without being constantly lectured, they will understand positive and negative consequences.
If your consequence is a loss of privilege, don’t be too afraid to make your children angry to follow through. If you’ve established house rules, keep them. The more you get used to doing this the less willpower it will take. It’ll simply become a natural rhythm in your family.
I sometimes sense warning bells in my mind when I am about to issue an empty threat. You know… when you really want them to do (or not do) something and you are prepared to say anything. Most of the time I stop myself from taking the easy way out because in the long run this is damaging. I’m not perfect, but I do try very hard in this area.
5. Refer to the teaching, don’t lecture
Basically, lecturing is going on and on about something we wish they would/wouldn’t have done. The ins, the outs, the whys, the shoulds and should nots. Of course what we’re saying is probably valid and true and of course they’d do well to listen. The trouble is this: if you’re to the lecturing phase they’ve probably already shut down and stopped listening. Young children probably don’t even understand you after a few emotionally charged convoluted sentences anyway. There’s an easier way.
Hopefully, you will have started training all day long during times of non-conflict. Now, when a behavior arises that is not good, or the opportunity for them to learn something comes up, recall your teaching time. By asking your kids to recall information you’ve already shared you will help transfer that information from short-term to long-term memory. And it will help them “own” whatever is the issue.
You can ask them questions like, “Where does this go?” or “why is that a no-no?” or “how did I do that last time?” Instead of spoon-feeding them everything you’ve already spent time teaching them, you can simply ask them to recall for you. Essentially, they can lecture themselves.
Toddlers know they shouldn’t hit their siblings. Kids know they shouldn’t lie. Teenagers know they shouldn’t sneak out of the house. Lecturing ad nauseam will not help them internalize the things they already know. By getting them to participate in the discussion, you aren’t allowing them to close up, shut down and ignore you. You are either giving them the confidence to recall skills and do a task, or making them take responsibility for their own behavior.
6. Learn to discern insecurity with stalling tactics.
I’ve gotten pretty good at discerning when my kids are stalling, and when they are simply hesitating due to uncertainty. When they are hesitating they usually remain by me (are not attempting to escape the situation) and seem a tad confused. This is an indication I need to help them get started, or ask them to recall what is to be done, and we go from there. Stalling is not too difficult to detect unless you have quite the deceiver. They go away from you, flat-out refuse, or say “I will, I will” while continuing doing their own thing.
I’ve noticed that 75% of the time when my children balk, it’s hesitation not disobedience. They are good kids. They want to be helpful and do things that need to be done. Most of the time they are too engrossed in what they’re doing to have properly heard me, or they simply need to be pushed in the right direction. They will often get distracted, but this is simply another opportunity for us to teach them to get back on track.
There comes a time when you’ve explained something enough they simply need to get on with it. In this case I will stand by them and verbally push them towards the task. Even in this case I find they are usually just unsure, not insecure. If my son gets stuck in a chair or my daughter says “I can’t do it, I can’t do it” I will respond to them, but not do it for them. I might say, “Okay, put your hand on the step and put your left foot down,” for example. They feel supported, but at the same time are doing it on their own which will increase their confidence. In response to “I can’t do it” phrases I’ll diffuse the emotions and simply say, “Yes you can, I’ll help.” I’ll then proceed to talk them through it.
When you find yourself starting to lecture, stop.
It’s not about letting them off easy. It’s about letting consequences speak for themselves.
You can either lecture them for an hour and ground them or simply ground them and move on with your day. If you want to lecture about the importance of something, just wait. Try to articulate your thoughts in one or two meaningful sentences, and then be sure to begin explaining that concept in times of non-conflict. Follow through and don’t balk on consequences. And if your desire to lecture is in response to misbehavior, issue their consequence and go punch a pillow. They’ll get it.
Want to learn your parenting style?
Each of us have our own personality, temperament, and giftings. And, the truth is, we parent best when we work with these instead of against them. Take this assessment so you can work to your strengths, and be the mom you want to be for yourself and your children.
New to this community? Start here, friend.